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Preparing for the worst case

One of the most disturbing trends in today’s world is the rise in the number of school shootings. The Richmond Hill Police Department collaborated with the school system last week to get better prepared in the event that a shooting were to occur in Bryan County.

Sgt. Jason Sakelarios, who is in charge of officer training, set up several mock scenarios in the halls of Richmond Hill Elementary School. Members of the Richmond Hill Fire Department played the parts of both victims and shooters.

"You never know when a situation like this may arise," RHPD Major Mike Albritton said. "This is all about planning for something you don’t want to happen but have got to be prepared for. The only way you can practice is to come up with this scenario, which is based on events we’ve seen in recent years in other parts of the country."

During one scene, officers were prompted to enter the school right as Richmond Hill firefighter Buddy Barrow seemingly executed a hostage before walking down the opposite end of the hall. With guns drawn in every direction, officers made their way down the hall while the lights went out. Midway down the hall, a mock explosive sounded. Just before getting to Barrow’s suspected location, firefighter Andy Burriss jumped out and began firing a weapon at the crew. Within seconds, Barrow and Burriss were sprayed with bullets to end that particular drill.

Of course, real bullets were not in play. But that doesn’t mean there was no pain involved. Barrow assured, while showing the welts on his body, that the simunition bullets packed a punch.

Upon impact, the bullets left a green paint mark on its targets, which helped the officers assess how they fared when the drill ended. Sakelarios said the officers performed successfully, but the real success lies in the fact that the department is much more prepared for this "worst case scenario".

"This gives us a better idea of what to expect on a bigger scale rather than discussing it in the classroom," RHPD Sgt. Ricky Bashlor said.

Sakelarios said a crisis such as this requires an entirely different set of skills than any other crime scene, "and in some ways they (officers) have to go against their own instincts."

For example, RHPD Cpl. Ray Fowler, after completing the drill, commented about the unfamiliar feelings he encountered as he and the other officers walked past a victim, as opposed to stopping and assisting, as they walked down the hallway.

Billy McGrath, with the Bryan County Board of Education, was on hand for the drills. He said he was pleased with the fact that local public safety officers are addressing this potential crisis.

"For years, we’ve always worked on tornadoes, fires - things like that," McGrath said. "Some things that go overlooked are the violence and things that are happening in society nowadays. It’s a great thing for me and the others in the school system to see that we’re communicating with the local law enforcement, EMS and firefighters. It’s good to know that we’re working together because it’s going to take all of us to tackle something like this."

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